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Report

22 Nov 2022

Author:
Ben Leather, Peace Brigades International UK

Opinion: Mandatory due diligence - an opportunity for the UK to protect the planet and those who defend it

The COP27 climate summit opened with a stark warning from UN Secretary-General António Guterres that our planet is on a ‘highway to climate hell’. Last year, the IPCC’s Assessment Report made clear that the only way to alter this course would be to harness Indigenous and local knowledge to develop sustainable environmental strategies. The insights, expertise and experience of Indigenous peoples and environmental rights defenders is integral to the realisation of a clean, healthy and sustainable environment for all.

Yet many grassroots environmentalists live in fear of speaking out. Every two days a land and environmental defender is murdered, with Indigenous defenders massively over-represented among those killed. The UN Working Group on business and human rights has recognised that the root cause of attacks lies in business abuses and the work of defenders in ‘[shining] a light on the underlying patterns of harmful business conduct and investment’.

At Peace Brigades International (PBI), we’ve seen this reality first hand, through our protective accompaniment of human rights defenders whose lives are at risk. More than a third of the defenders we support globally have faced threats, criminalisation or attacks for standing up to destructive business projects. They face reprisals for taking a stand against human rights and environmental impacts that could have been avoided in the first place, had companies and investors carried out proper due diligence...

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As part of the Corporate Justice Coalition, PBI is calling for a Business, Human Rights and Environment Act to mandate all businesses to conduct human rights and environmental due diligence, preventing the kinds of destruction and abuses that human rights defenders end up having to denounce and protest. An effective law would avoid and avert many human rights abuses in the first instance, and also mean corporations could be held liable for backing ventures that lead to attacks on Indigenous leaders, activists and journalists. It would cover all negative human rights impacts across all sectors, and align the UK with steps being taken elsewhere, including through the proposed EU Directive.

Brand name companies, investors worth trillions, and tens of NGOs are united in their support for mandatory due diligence legislation with liability provisions for failing to prevent harm. Consumers agree: a YouGov poll has shown that four in five Britons want a law to eradicate environmental damage and exploitative practices in supply chains, while almost 130,000 people have signed a petition in favour of the law.

In light of their renewed environmental commitments around COP27, it is now time for the UK Government and opposition politicians to respond to these cross-sectoral demands, consult stakeholders – including human rights defenders – and commit to a Business, Human Rights and Environment Act...

Timeline